It’s no secret that India has long been a wild and unregulated market for international surrogacy. Western couples that can’t afford the six figure price tag of a surrogate in their own country will often look to the developing world where the practice can be carried out for only a fraction of the cost at home. Having spent time in India trying to better understand the inner workings of surrogacy there, I’ve seen firsthand just what a massive industry it is—and how many individuals and organizations are eager to profit from it.

A recent article in the Hindustan Times offers some helpful facts and figures that illustrate just how big this industry has become—and some very serious evidence that regulation won’t solve the woes that surround the practice.

Consider these stats:

  • In 2012, the surrogacy enterprise generated $2 billion dollars in the country.
  • Over 10,000 international couples visit India each year to pursue surrogacy.
  • There are over 3,000 fertility clinics in India.
  • Out of the 300+ clinics in Delhi, the capital of India, only 39 are registered with Indian Council of Medical Research, the regulatory body that is supposedly in charge of monitoring and overseeing the practice.

The big business of infertility in India isn’t limited to surrogacy—but also includes the market for donor eggs, which is carelessly regulated as well. As the article highlights:

Newer clinics and ART banks are only inclined to make a quick buck. “Many are not even willing to wait it out so that the egg donors can be tested for diseases. There have been cases of HIV positive status being detected after the donation.” Singh says that certain clinics and ART banks don’t care to explain to women who are donating their eggs that they cannot undergo the procedure repeatedly because of potential health risks from injecting hormones.

Supporters of these practices defend them by asserting that any abuses or potential harms can be managed by regulation. But as every new article and story reveals, regulation is always limited in its effectiveness and fails to protect the most vulnerable parties in these transactions.

The practice of surrogacy gets a lot of cover from those who claim that it’s fundamentally about helping couples who can’t conceive naturally to still be able to have children. But as this article—and plenty like it—show, there are many others who are hurt along the way.

Image by Philippe Put flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Christopher White, Ramsey Institute Project Director